The 7th of April 2012 marks the day that Malawi inaugurated its first female President Joyce Banda. President Banda succeeds Bingu wa Mutharika who died of cardiac arrest last Thursday. It is a monumental appointment for various reasons. Firstly, Joyce Banda is only the second woman on the African continent to achieve the position of Head of State. She follows in the 2006 footsteps of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Secondly, President Banda has already kicked into gear barely a week into the presidency by making some crucial decisions and showing Malawi and the world that she means serious business and is prepared to put in the work. Malawi is a country of dire financial and political straits and many Malawians, especially women, look upon Banda’s appointment as a positive step in the betterment of their society.
Previously Banda served as Vice-President of the country but fell into disrepute with President Mutharika in 2010 which resulted in her leaving the ruling Democratic People’s Party. She then formed her own party, the People’s Party, proving she cannot be deterred. Despite overcoming many obstacles in the journey to the presidency, Banda still faces an ever-increasing list of challenges as she leads Malawi in its worst economic state ever. So far, she has responded by sacking Malawi’s defunct police chief Peter Mukhito and Information Minister Patricia Kaliati. But is this enough? The UK and other international donors cancelled much needed aid to the country over the past year, accusing late President Mutharika of “mishandling the economy and failing to uphold human rights”.
Bingu wa Mutharika served as President for eight years but his death comes as a relief to most Malawians, with a local businessman being quoted on the news as saying “we all wished him dead”. Prior to his death, there were calls for the 78-year-old to step down. However, Joyce Banda seems to be taking her current situation in her stride and is already in talks with the International Monetary Fund on how to improve the Malawian economic crisis.
More importantly, one might argue are her future plans to improve the lives of millions of Malawian women living in the worst conditions. What impact is her appointment as President going to have on the ordinary woman? Banda has spent several years championing women’s rights and founded the National Association of Business Women that helps women launch their business endeavors. Now that she is in one of the highest positions of power and able to influence bills and laws, it remains to be seen what steps she is going to take to further the lives of women.
It is always a special occasion when a woman ascends into the hierarchy of power and Banda has become an icon and a beacon of light for women across the African continent. Much of Africa’s history is dominated by the stories of male dictators such as the likes of Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin and Banda presents a new perspective of hope and triumph. The future seems bright for Malawi although there is plenty of work to be done. Joyce Banda is the perfect woman for the job.
Nomcebo N. Sibiya